February 10, 2011

Slaughtering fat sheep

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I finally had a chance to meet up with Tigger's family to wish them happy new year, on the 8th day of the year of the rabbit.  I had expected a dinner at home, but as it turned out we went to Tenzen (天膳).  This family keeps coming here for dinner, for reasons that are completely foreign to me.  I have always found the food to be mediocre at best, and never found any reason to choose them over any of a dozen other places in town.

Tonight's meal was a disaster.  I'm not talking about the food, which was OK as usual but nothing to write home about.  We had some sashimi, followed by some deep-fried black cod bones, some steamed broadbanded thornyhead (きんき)... and I asked for a bowl of sushi rice topped with sea urchin and salmon roe.  The salmon roe was alright, but I must admit those were 2 very big pieces of fresh sea urchin...

But the service was appalling.  Tigger's family are regulars and the staff all address them by name.  We're still within the first 15 days of the lunar new year, so by tradition people hand out red packets for luck.  The staff stopped just short of holding out their hands in anticipation, and had the gall to tell us that there are 15 of them in the restaurant - expecting to be given 15 packets!

My friends were used to asking the staff for recommendations, and did so again today.  Let's face it... we like to eat, and fortunately can afford to have some pretty nice stuff.  But it doesn't mean we're pushovers and the staff can take advantage of us by sending us the most expensive stuff without checking with us about the price.  At least, that is not how I wish to be treated.  The Chinese expression for this kind of treatment is "slaughtering fat sheep" (宰肥羊), and I definitely felt like one today.

Uncle wanted to drink a little, and asked for a bottle of sake.  Not being an expert on the subject, he asked the waitress for a recommendation.  They had just received a new shipment of premium sake, and the waitress eagerly recommended the Kikuhime Daiginjo (菊姫 大吟醸).  Well, I happen to know a little something about sake, and was actually kicking myself for not bringing a bottle to dinner.  While I like Kikuhime, I also like the Kokuryu Daiginjo (黒龍 大吟醸) just as much, and the Kikuhime is being listed at a 50% premium to the Kokuryu!  I immediately stopped the waitress and asked to switch to the Kokuryu.  And guess what?  There is already a 300% mark-up on the Kokuryu...

Then there's the matter of the broadbanded thornyhead (きんき).  I'm not sure whether the waitress mentioned the price - or even the name of the fish - when she suggested that we take a steamed fish.  When it arrived I immediately recognized it, and know it to be a fairly expensive variety.  OK, the fish is reasonably tasty but honestly, I'd take a Cantonese steamed fish any day, and I'd pay less money for it, too!

During the whole evening, we didn't feel like we were being treated like the regular/VIP customers that we were.  Was it because we didn't hand out 15 red packets?  Service was sloppy, dishes came out in the wrong order, and some of our stuff was sent to the next table - who decided to gobble it up even though they knew they didn't order it!

Overall, the meal was a disaster.  The only times I've been to this restaurant have been with this family, and I have never paid a dime of my own money here.  And you know what?  I never will.

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